Bruce Smith, a longtime activist, grew up in Falls Church, Virginia but moved to Vienna, Virginia after the death of his father. He credits his college years to his Mother’s Social Security Survivor Benefits and the two jobs she worked to help him through those tough years. Bruce gets his spirit from his Mother, a Virginia Republican leader and activist who championed women’s rights and civil rights—issues that the Republican Party advocated for in those days. Although Bruce was a College Young Republican leader and organizer, he began drifting. When pushed to make a choice between property rights and civil rights—he chose the latter.
After the March on Washington in 1964, Bruce began devoting much of his time to student led civil rights activism at Lynchburg College. By April Bruce had become a founding member of the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC), put together by Black leaders of SNCC to provide a way for more Southern white students to get into the civil rights movement. In following summers, Bruce worked on a Quaker project in Mexico, helped organize voter rights in Amelia County, and upon graduation volunteered for the AFL-CIO helping to organize farm workers in support of Cesar Chavez's efforts.
During graduate school Bruce continued his work helping students to organize against racism, poverty, and war. As well as continued efforts towards women’s, minorities, and workers’ rights. He even helped to organize the first multi-ethnic tenants union in Chester, PA. During Bruce’s professional teaching years he focused on helping students become critical thinkers in Social Studies, writing and reading. Bruce continues his activist work in the field of social justice as well as through working with the NEA.
Bruce’s mother is recognized with getting him involved with AARP. For his 50 th birthday , she gave him a fifteen year membership but he remained a passive member until his retirement. Bruce’s main goal was to promote the welfare of retired teachers and he luckily fell right into an AARP program for retired advocates and never looked back. Protecting Social Security from becoming underfunded and educating people about the Affordable Care Act are two causes Bruce helps AARP promote.
Bruce believes AARP should be pushing its members to take a more proactive role in their lives; he fears the older generation is becoming too passive and complacent. Bruce wants the 50+ to stop listening to cynics pushing for seniors to “keep working as long as they can” and to not only enjoy retirement, but use the leisure time and gathered wisdom to become citizen activists, advocating, defending and protecting posterity. Bruce also has a few words of wisdom for younger generations:
Count on Social Security, but don’t take it for granted. Rights and privileges unused are eventually lost. Just like any retirement plan, social security must be protected and strengthened to meet the challenges that are sure to come.
When he is not advocating for the rights of the underprivileged and retired Bruce enjoys yard work, traveling, yoga, rowing and grooving out to some good old Rock and Roll.
Written by Laura Szakmary